How do you keep your volunteers motivated? Although it’s an important question, in reality there is nothing you can do to motivate a volunteer. All volunteers are motivated, but they do things for their reasons not yours. Since motivation is an inner drive, your role as a leader of volunteers is to create a culture that encourages serving.
Here are four things volunteers need to keep motivated:
- Volunteers want to be on a winning team.
Nothing frustrates today’s volunteers more than being on a team that’s going nowhere. They want to be on a winning team that’s solving an important problem. But identifying the problem is not enough. You can’t stop with the question, “What problem are we trying to solve?” To clarify a winning team goal, there are two more strategic questions. Question #2—What is the solution to the problem? Question #3—Who are the team members needed to solve that problem? The answers to all three questions are the first step to creating a stimulating volunteer culture. A clearly stated win for the volunteer team is the rallying point for mobilizing the power of volunteers for your team.
- Volunteers want to feel valued and important.
Albert Einstein has been credited to have said, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Each person has unique gifts and abilities to make contributions to ministry. It’s the job of the leader to make sure those gifts and abilities are recognized and appreciated.
When people give their discretionary time and energy, they need regular feedback and affirmation to know their service is valued. This can be as simple as sending a hand-written thank you note to acknowledge a volunteer as an integrated, valued member of the team. Andy Stanley says that to keep passion alive, interdependency must be felt. Ministry leaders need to make people feel they are important and valued, or they won’t stick around.
- Volunteers want shorter terms of service.
The typical shelf life of a volunteer for “Make a Wish” in the Hudson Valley in New York is about three years, according to volunteer manager Abraham Almanza. He’s happy to have them for three years. In North Carolina, a Guardian ad Litem volunteer advocate commits to at least eight hours per month on a case, and they are encouraged to serve until the case is completed, which usually takes one year. These two organizations understand the reality of today’s volunteer. Most volunteers will not make an open-ended commitment, but can be expected to help make a difference this year, or this month, or perhaps even several years. We live in a short-term culture.
- Volunteers want to be an asset when present but not a liability when absent.
Several years ago our good friends were visiting us and we were engaged in a lively conversation about volunteers when Sharon Eidsness, a retired boomer, said, “I want to volunteer where my presence is an asset but my absence is not a liability.” I grabbed a pen and wrote that down because I believe Sharon’s statement summed up one of the best descriptions of what today’s volunteers want. When I show her words on a slide at a workshop, I hear sighs all over the room because leaders are thinking, “Great! How do I pull that off?”
A key for engaging the highly mobile, very busy, 21st century volunteer is flexibility and teams. My wife Susie volunteers four to five hours on Thursdays at our local food bank. Because she is retired, she often travels with me when I speak and most months she is unable to fill her role at least one Thursday of the month. If her manager was not willing to accommodate her travel schedule, or have multiple team members, she would not have a dedicated volunteer three out of the four weeks of the month. And by the way, Sharon’s axiom is not just for retired boomers. All volunteers, of all generations, share this feeling.